Poetry on a platter

Article by Lynda La Rocca

Poetry – April 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED, 13th-century Persian poet Shaikh Muslih- uddin Sadi hit the proverbial nail on the head when he wrote:

“If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,

And from thy slender store

Two loaves alone to thee are left

Sell one, and with the dole,

Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”

Smart guy, that Sadi. For what is life, really, without the beauty of art, music, and poetry — without hyacinths to nurture our collective spirit?

Taking its cue from Sadi, Central Colorado is once again dishing out its own version of soul food at the sixth annual Poetry on a Platter, an eight- day poetic banquet that begins in Salida on April 8 before moving to Gunnison April 11 and concluding in Montrose on April 15.

To celebrate National Poetry Month, Poetry on a Platter — known to its fans as PoP — brings nationally and regionally recognized poets to rural communities for a series of workshops, readings, open mikes, and discussions. This year’s hosts are Colorado Poet Laureate Mary Crow and part- time Salida resident Mark Irwin.

Since its inception, Poetry on a Platter has featured a variety of poets writing in a variety of styles, from Ghana native Kwame Dawes of the University of South Carolina and National Slam Poetry Champion Danny Solís to Colorado’s own Chris Ransick and Veronica Patterson.

All PoP events are free to the public, thanks to major sponsors like the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado and Art Works For the Heart of the Rockies, and generous financial and in- kind support from local and regional businesses, organizations, and individuals. That’s not to mention the ongoing and enthusiastic efforts of Kathy Berg, Salida Regional Library’s special projects and archive librarian and PoP coordinator.

“[Poetry on a Platter] keeps going because the response from poets and participants has been so great, and because poetry makes such a difference to people,” says Berg.

Sometimes, it’s the difference between life and death.

“Poetry is so life- altering,” Berg observes. “You know how you can have a favorite teacher who changes your life? Well, poetry can do the same thing.

“Our PoP brochure says, ‘Poetry changes lives. In some cases and places, poetry saves lives,'” Berg continues. “And that’s true. Some forms of writing, like journaling, are very therapeutic. But poetry is even more dramatic. I think that’s because every poet puts a bit of his or her life into each poem they write.”

That’s certainly true of Irwin, whose residence in Romania on a Fulbright Fellowship produced such poems as “Bucharest, 1981” with its haunting refrain:

“Damian, thank you for Constantine’s

book, which I have opened only

once, but keep reading in my sleep.”

. . . And its memorable closing:

“Everyone in this poem

is dead, except one girl, pouring light or water,

and myself, reading very late at night.”

Irwin, an assistant professor in the University of Southern California’s English graduate studies creative writing program, has translated two volumes of poetry from the French and Romanian and is the recipient of two Colorado Book Awards for his poetry collections Bright Hunger and White City. Like Irwin, Crow, an English professor at Colorado State University, is also a translator, but of poetry by Latin American and South American poets. Her translation of Engravings Torn from Insomnia: Selected Poems by Olga Orozco, was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Translation Award. (The PEN Center USA works to foster a literary community in the western United States and defends the rights of writers, both nationally and internationally.)

AS COLORADO’S POET LAUREATE for the past 10 years, Crow has initiated several poetry- related projects, including “Poetry in Motion,” which places poetry placards on city buses. But her main focus has been, and remains, promoting poetry in the classroom.

Toward that end, Crow and Irwin will host special student programs at the Salida and Montrose high schools and at Gunnison’s Western State College of Colorado as part of Poetry on a Platter. And during their visits, copies of Crow’s poetry collections Borders and I Have Tasted the Apple and Irwin’s poetry books Bright Hunger and Quick, Now, Always will be distributed to students.

That should satisfy a lot of poetic cravings.

So when it comes to Poetry on a Platter, in the words of the old television commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it.” Poetry on a Platter won’t just spark or rekindle an interest in poetry. It will feed your mind, fill your spirit — and make you hungry for more.

Lynda La Rocca writes poetry, reads poetry, and even edits poetry from her home in Twin Lakes, where she also indulges in some prosaic activities.